2013 Cardinals Bloggers Awards Ballot


The November United Cardinal Bloggers project is one of my favorites as we get to look back at the highs and lows of the previous season, and more importantly, recognize some of the great contributors in the group.   With great pleasure, here is my ballot for 2013.

1) Cardinal Position Player of the Year: Yadier Molina

Molina justified his contract extension by nearly matching his career season in 2012 while nursing a group of young pitchers all the way to the World Series.  If we had to post our ballots in early September, I might have gone with Allen Craig.   But when all of the dust finally settled on the 2013 season, Yadier Molina was the Cardinals most valuable player and probably should have won the award for the National League (no disrespect to Andrew McCutchen).

2) Cardinal Pitcher of the Year: Trevor Rosenthal

Adam Wainwright was every bit the ace of the staff that we expected him to be, and he will likely win the award.  But Trevor Rosenthal gave us something truly special this season, as he transformed himself from curious hard throwing setup guy into a dominating closer that we have not seen since Todd Worrell wore the jersey.   He was a lot of fun to watch in 2013 and I can’t wait to see what role he plays in 2014.

3) Game of the Year
May 10 vs. Colorado (Miller’s almost-perfecto)
May 11 vs. Colorado (Wainwright’s no-hitter into 8th)

How can you possibly separate these two games ?   If I had to pick just one, it would be Wainwright’s near no-hitter as he appeared to be on cruise control for most of the game.   It was one of the most dominating games of his career, and I don’t think it will be the last time he flirts with a no-hitter.

4) Surprise Player of the Year: Kevin Siegrist

I totally get the Matt Carpenter votes in this category, but really ?  OK, maybe all those doubles were a bit unexpected, but wasn’t pretty much everything else he did right on the line with what he had seen him do in the minors and previous spring trainings ?

Siegrist was the Trevor Rosenthal of last season, seemingly coming out of nowhere to dominate the league with high velocity, exceptional control and a composure that is rare in such a young player.  He was brilliant as a starter, but the extra velocity from moving to the pen put him on a fast track, and boy, did he deliver (pun totally intended).

5) Disappointing Player of the Year: David Freese

Fernando Salas had some injury trouble and Pete Kozma was exactly the player we should have expected, so that leaves us with David Freese.   An injury in spring training was probably a big factor in his disappointing year at the plate, which is unfortunate.  It has also become something of a regular pattern.   I wish him the best with the Angels and will fondly remember his heroics while in St. Louis.

6) Rookie of the Year:  Shelby Miller

Until running out of gas in the second half of the season, Shelby Miller was one of the best pitchers in the National League, rookie or not.   A 20 win season is right around the corner for the young right hander and I just hope he will be in the Cardinals rotation when it happens.

7) Acquisition of the Year: Peter Bourjos.   Too soon ????   OK, Randy Choate

Does that need an explanation ?   We might look back at this next year and change it to John Axford, but for now, the veteran lefty did exactly what we expected him to do.   Looking forward to seeing him again next year.

8) Most Anticipated Cardinal: Lee Stoppleman

I’m glad to see Stoppleman on the actual list as I would have written him in had he not been there.  Stoppleman was just sensational in the closer role for Springfield and in a very brief time in Memphis, showed he could take on AAA hitters.   Bud Selig might have to intervene should the Cardinals have a bullpen with Kevin Siegrist and Lee Stoppleman – gives me goosebumps to think about that.

For those of you that have not seen Stopplman, he will remind you a lot of Siegrist.   His delivery is a bit more deceptive which makes his 93mph fastball look more like Siegrist’s 97.   He has great control and can work both corners of the plate.   If he can avoid the Eric Fornataro troubles next year, we could see him in St. Louis before the 2014 season comes to an end.
9) Best Individual Cardinal Blog: Retrosimba

I adore Cardinals history and nobody does it better than Mark Tomasik.   I’ve said this many times, had I come across Mark’s writing before I started my own blog, I never would have started it.   As I am preparing to shut mine down, I know that Cardinals history will continue to be taught by one of the best.

10) Best Team Cardinal Blog: Pitchers Hit Eighth

Even though they are now doing it over at Cardinals Conclave, Nick and Josh are two of my favorite writers and they continue to put out great content.

11) Best Media Coverage: Derrick Goold
12) Best Rookie Cardinal Blog: Cardinals Farm

This was a very difficult one as so many great new bloggers have started up this year, and love the new perspectives and enthusiasm.  John’s writing at Cardinals Farm covers a very important area that is not well represented – the minor leagues.   Like Daniel does for the Cardinals, John tries to do for the entire farm system.  Truly a labor of love and I appreciate what it takes to do that.

13) Post of the Year: Matt Holliday: One Of The Most Cost Effective Players In Baseball (stlcupofjoe’s Sports Page)
14) Best UCB Project: Top 7 Prospects

I’m a big fan of the kids down in the minor leagues and this gives us a great chance to share our observations and expectations.

15) Best UCB Podcast: Conversations With C70

How can you not vote for a podcast that starts out with “You are listening to my daddy’s show” ?

16) Best UCB Twitterer; Dennis Lawson @gr33nazn

There are so many great members of the Cardinals Twitter Nation, but Dennis stands out with a rare combination of humor, insight and darn impressive baseball IQ.  Rarely does a day go by that I don’t get a chuckle or two from something Dennis says.

That brings my ballot to a close.   Make sure and check out other ballots over at the UCB Project page.

Posted in 2012 Season | 1 Comment

The 1967 Cardinals Were Largely Homegrown Too


Much has been made of the homegrown talent that the Cardinals are sending into the World Series in 2013, for good reason.  In the era of free agency, teams like the 2013 Cardinals are somewhat of the exception, although that trend may be changing as the economics of the game may force teams to be more selective with future free agent signings.  How this team was put together was no accident and it bares a striking resemblance to another great team in Cardinals history, one that went on to beat the Red Sox.  Coincidence ?  I don’t think so.

moDuring a session with the United Cardinal Bloggers earlier this year, General Manager, John Mozeliak, was asked a question about his predecessors and their influences.  He explained that he had received a lot of advice from Bing Devine, who ran the organization from 1957 until an untimely dismissal in 1964 and then again from late 1967 to 1978.  All of a sudden, everything the Cardinals were doing made perfect sense.  While he would not return until after the Cardinals defeated the Red Sox in 1967, Bing Devine’s fingerprints were will all over the new World Champions, and in a sense can also be found on the team today.  Like the current roster of Redbirds, the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals were largely homegrown too.

Let’s take a look.

Starting Position Players

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
1B Orlando Cepeda Trade (Giants) Matt Adams Drafted
2B Julian Javier Trade (Pirates) Matt Carpenter Drafted
SS Dal Maxvill Drafted Pete Kozma Drafted
3B Mike Shannon Drafted David Freese Minor league trade
LF Lou Brock Trade (Cubs) Matt Holliday Trade (As)
CF Curt Flood Trade (Reds) Jon Jay Drafted
RF Roger Maris Trade (Yankees) Carlos Beltran Free Agent
C Tim McCarver Drafted Yadier Molina Drafted

Even though Julian Javier and Curt Flood were acquired in a trade, they had a total of 8 games at the Major League level between them, and those were all by Curt Flood.   These two were closer to the minor league deal that brought David Freese to the Cardinals than Lou Brock, who had some time in the big leagues with the Cubs. With a bit of creative license, that brings the 67 squad to five starters that were either drafted or brought over as minor leaguers to six on the current team.

cepeda

Orlando Cepeda – 1967 NL MVP

Looking at the starters, position by position, brings up some other interesting comparisons especially if you swap Matt Adams for Allen Craig.  Both Cepeda and Craig hit for average, gap power and had the ability to get a key hit.  Cepeda won the NL MVP award and Craig was in the discussion until his injury in September ended his season.

Even scarier is the left side of the infield where Dal Maxvill (.227 / .297 / .279, 1 home run and 41 RBIs) is Pete Kozma (.217 / .257 / .273, 1 home run and 35 RBIs)  and Mike Shannon (.245 / .302 / .369, 12 home runs, 75 RBIs)  is David Freese (.264 / .340 / .381., 9 home runs, 60 RBIs).

While you would never compare their production on first glance, Matt Holliday and Lou Brock are more alike than you might think.  Sure, Brock was a gifted speedster terrorizing the opposing battery once he reached base.  What has been forgotten is that early in his career, Brock hit for some serious power.  If he had hit third in the Cardinals batting order, his overall production would have looked more like Orlando Cepeda’s, and not that far off that of Matt Holliday in 2013.

The biggest similarity are from the two veterans, Carlos Beltran and Roger Maris.   While they were/are past their primes, both could cover some ground and make great plays when the game was on the line.  And both had cannons from right field.  Maris also had a tremendous Word Series in 1967, leading the team with 7 RBIs and trailing just Lou Brock with a .385 batting average.  Maris could have been the series MVP, had Bob Gibson not been as dominating as he was.

Starting Pitchers

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
SP Bob Gibson Drafted Adam Wainwright Minor league trade
SP Dick Hughes Drafted Michael Wacha Drafted
SP Nelson Briles Drafted Joe Kelly Drafted
SP Steve Carlton Drafted Lance Lynn Drafted

Here is where we really see the similarity in approach between Bing Devine and John Mozeliak – develop starting pitching and then surround them with key acquisitions, as needed.  In both cases, the GMs get great marks in executing to that plan, with a slight nod to Mozeliak as we see an even more impressive execution in the bullpen.

While nobody would compare the styles of Bob Gibson and Adam Wainwright, Ray Washburn is actually pretty close, Wainwright has become just as much as leader of this current rotation as Gibson was in his era.  Both could be counted on to take the ball in must win games and give their respective teams a chance to win.  And they are both winners.  Adam Wainwright is what I believe Ray Washburn could have been, had he not been injured early in his career.

Dick Hughes

We’ve talked about the eerie parallel between Joe Kelly and Nelson Briles before, but things get interesting when you compare Dick Hughes and Michael Wacha.  Both are rookies, although Dick Hughes had a long minor league career before breaking into the big leagues.  Hughes slider was one of the nastiest in the game and a big part of his success, just as the change-up is for Wacha.  Both make a very good fastball even better.  The big difference is the innings load as Wacha’s has been very carefully managed and Hughes was not.  As a result, Hughes was a bit fatigued in the World Series and the Red Sox bats got to him in both of his starts, and a big reason why the series went a full seven games.

Bullpen

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
CL Joe Hoerner Trade (Astros) Trevor Rosenthal Drafted
RP Ron Willis Drafted Carlos Martinez Drafted
RP Jack Lamabe Trade (Mets) Seth Maness Drafted
RP Hal Woodshick Trade (Astros) Kevin Siegrist Drafted
RP Al Jackson Trade (Mets) Edward Mujica Trade (Marlins)
RP Larry Jaster Drafted Randy Choate Free Agent
RP Ray Washburn Drafted Shelby Miller Drafted
John Axford Trade (Brewers)

This is where the similarities basically end.  Other than a good number of homegrown pitchers in the 67 bullpen, there is little in common between the two bullpens, except maybe Seth Maness and Joe Hoerner – both were deceptive, threw strikes and just didn’t give up a lot of hard hit balls.  Ron Willis was a hard throwing side armer, but there were no relievers that threw anywhere near as hard as the kids on the current roster.  One thing that has been a bit overlooked in recent years was how young the 1967 pitching staff was – Ron Willis (23), Nelson Briles (23), Larry Jaster (23), Steve Carlton (22).  That is three of your five starters and go to right hander out of the bullpen.  Dick Hughes was the anomaly as a 29 year old rookie.

The Bench

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
Bobby Tolan Drafted Allen Craig Drafted
Ed Spiezio Drafted Tony Cruz Drafted
Phil Gagliano Drafted Shane Robinson Drafted
Alex Johnson Trade (Phillies) Adron Chambers* Drafted
Eddie Broussard Trade (Mets) Daniel Descalso Drafted
Dave Ricketts Drafted Kolten Wong* Drafted
John Romano Trade (White Sox)
* one of these two players will be left off the World Series roster to make room for Allen Craig.
Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson

Neither of these benches are going to scare the opposing pitchers late in the game, but the number of players that were developed in the Cardinals farm system is very close.   Phil Gagliano was the Daniel Descalso of that era, a scrappy ballplayer that could come up with an unexpected bit hit as well as play just about any infield or outfield position.   Even scarier is the comparison between Alex Johnson and Adron Chambers.  Other than Johnson’s questionable work ethic, which is why did didn’t play in the World Series, both players were built more like football players and could flat out fly on the bases.  Unfortunately, unless placed there in a pinch running situation, neither of them could figure out how to get on base.  Johnson would eventually figure things out and become a very good player, as would Bobby Tolan, but not until traded to the Cincinnati Reds.  That suggests perhaps a bit more patience should be shown with Adron Chambers.

Note: of course, Adron Chambers would be left off the World Series roster, adding to the Alex Johnson comparison.

The ’67 Cardinals carried three catchers, so Dave Ricketts did at least get a few at bats in the World Series.  With only Tony Cruz backing up Yadier Molina, his next at bat will likely come next March, in Spring Training.

As baseball fans, we will try to draw some conclusions based on a completely unrelated set of past events in the hopes of finding some optimism heading into a big series.  Taking a closer look at the 1967 team, there are more than a few similarities.   Lots of young and home grown talent and both teams play a balanced brand of baseball, perhaps a bit tilted in the direction of starting pitching.  It is certainly a more fitting comparison than the offensively minded team that got swept in 2004.   Or at least that is my story until the series actually gets under way.

Posted in 2013 Season, General History | Leave a comment

September 6-8 – Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals


Birds Eye View Header

With 22 games (15 home, 7 away) remaining in the Cardinals regular season schedule, this table tells all that you need to know about the importance of this upcoming series.

Team Wins Losses Pct Games Back
Pittsburgh 81 58 .583 -
St. Louis 80 60 .571 1 1/2
Cincinnati 79 62 .560 3

Coming off a rough 2-5 road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Cardinals managed to hold on to second place thanks to similar struggles by both the Pirates and Reds.  Over the last 10 games, the standings have changed by only a single game.  All three teams are showing signs of weariness, but some last minute post-season deadline acquisitions by the Pirates have given them a much needed spark.

piratesFor the Pirates, they find themselves in first place in the National League Central in September and their next win will be an important milestone.  Their 4-3 victory over the Brewers last Tuesday finally ended their string of losing seasons that dates back to 1992.  But 81 wins is not a winning season, just yet.  I am sure that they would love to record that important victory in St. Louis, adding to the statement they made last week as they beat up the Cardinals in Pittsburgh.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals, this will be the last time they will face either of the NL Central contenders, and will only play one team with a winning record in the final six series (Washington in St. Louis).  A series win against the Pirates could be the catalyst the Cardinals need to shake off this recent funk and head into the playoffs with some momentum.  That has been the key to their success in the last two World Championship seasons (2006, 2011) and it will be again if Mike Matheny’s squad wants to duplicate some of that past October magic.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, September 6 – 7:15pm CDT

Joe Kelly (7-3, 2.82) vs AJ Burnett (7-9, 3.09)

In five previous starts against St. Louis, the Pirates veteran right hander has three wins and he will be seeking his fourth in the series opener.  The two teams have split his two no-decisions.  Burnett has been great in his last three starts, pitching at least seven innings, including his last start, which was against the Cardinals.  If you are looking for a word to describe his season, it would be steady.

For Kelly, that word would be stopper as he has become the only dependable starter over the last two months.  He is 2-1 against the Pirates in a pair of starts and three relief appearances.  For Kelly, the key will be to go deeper into his starts.  In only one has he pitched into the seventh inning.  Even with the expanded roster, the Cincinnati series tore up the bullpen, so a long outing in the series opener would be most welcome.

This one is too close to call, but should be a pitcher’s duel.  What a great matchup to start the series.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports

Saturday, September 7 – 6:15pm CDT

Adam Wainwright (15-9, 3.14) vs Jeff Locke (9-4, 3.22)

Since a 128 pitch complete game win against Atlanta, Adam Wainwright has struggled in his last 2 starts.  In 8 innings of work, he has allowed 15 runs and given up 3 home runs.  He is no longer commanding the strike zone, so his strikeouts have fallen off sharply as has his ability to escape jams.  While he makes no excuses for his performance, it could be the inning load or some recent pitch counts.  He will have to gut out one more start before an off day gives him some much needed rest.  The Cardinals are 2-1 in Wainwright’s 3 starts against the Pirates in 2013.

Jeff Locke has been the Pirates version of Lance Lynn, a deceptively good win/loss record that hides a late season collapse.  It had gotten so bad that Locke was optioned to the minor leagues after his last start on August 27, to give him a break.   This will be his first start since returning to the Pirates.  Locke has faced the Cardinals twice this year.  He was sensational in April, pitching 7 scoreless innings.  He has a 1-0 record  and the Pirates have won both of his starts.

Adam Wainwright will set the tone for this game.  If he is strong early and keeps a low pitch count, it could be a long night for the Pirates.   Recent history says otherwise, but this is Adam Wainwright, and we should never underestimate him in a big game.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports, MLB Network

Sunday, September 8 – 1:15pm CDT

Michael Wacha (2-0, 3.20) vs Charlie Morton (7-3, 3.00)

This will be Michael Wacha’s sixth start for the Cardinals in his first full professional season, and what a season it has been for the 22 year old.  He has also spent some time in the Cardinals bullpen plus 15 starts with the Cardinals AAA affiliate in Memphis.  The Cardinals have managed his inning load very closely, so he should be able to finish out the regular season and still have something left for post-season.  Wacha was sensational in his last start, throwing six scoreless innings in Cincinnati, allowing just 3 hits.

Charlie Morton returned to the Pirates in June, exactly one year after having Tommy John surgery.  After a few starts to stretch him out, Morton has been strong, and getting stronger with each successive start.   He has faced the Cardinals twice, both times in August, and did not receive a decision in either game.  The Cardinals won both of them.  If the inning load is getting to Morton, which is not uncommon in the first year following ligament replacement surgery, he is not showing it.  He has won his last 3 starts and shaved half of a run off his ERA.

This one is too close to call.   It may be decided by the two bullpens.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports

Who is Hot – Pittsburgh

Marlon Byrd, who was acquired at the post-season trade deadline, is hitting .444 with 5 doubles and 6 RBIs over the last week.  This is just what the Pirates needed to help make up for the loss of Starling Marte, who hasn’t played since mid-August.

Neil Walker is 10 for his last 26 with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run.   He also plays well against St. Louis, so the Cardinals pitchers need to be very careful with him.

Another newcomer, Justin Morneau, is hitting .462 (6-13) over the last week.   The power isn’t there yet, but he was on a tear prior to be traded to Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutchen – is there a time when McCutchen is not on fire ?  While he was stone cold in the Cardinals last series in Pittsburgh, he was a one man wrecking crew in the last three games against the Brewers.  He went 5-12 with a double and 2 home runs.  If there is anything positive to take away from that as a Cardinals fan, both the homers were solo shots.

Who is Not – Pittsburgh

Pedro Alverez, who destroys Cardinals pitching, is struggling at the plate.  He is just 2 for his last 20, with 6 strikeouts, but both of those hits were doubles.

Russell Martin is 2-14, but both of those hits were home runs.

John Buck, another of the Pirates last minute additions, is just 2 for his last 20, but does have an RBI.

Who is Hot – St. Louis

Shane Robinson has 3 hits and 3 walks in his last 10 plate appearances for an On Base Percentage of .600.  Unfortunately, he was picked off in a key moment of the final loss in the Reds series, but if he continues to reach base, he will stay in the batting order.

MarpMatt Carpenter is hitting .391 this month with 3 doubles, a triple and 6 runs scored.   While the rest of the Cardinals look weary, Carpenter continues to produce at the top of the batting order.  He leads the National League in hits (170), doubles (46) and runs (106) scored.  His next double will set the Cardinals single season record.

David Freese, who has become part of an unusual platoon with Kolten Wong, is starting to heat up and making it harder for Mike Matheny to keep him on the bench.  He is 3 for his last 10 including a double, home run, 3 RBIs and 4 walks.

Joe Kelly continues recreating Nelson Briles heroic 1967 performance when he stepped in and helped deliver an NL Pennant and World Series Championship.  Since joining the rotation in early July, Kelly is 7-0 and the Cardinals have only lost one of his 10 starts.  His peripheral stats (walks, hits, strikeouts) don’t support his current performance, which makes it all the more fun to watch.  The key to Kelly’s success is his runner strand rate.  A much improved off speed pitch repertoire and less tipping has been a big part of that.

The Young Guns.  Other than Matt Carpenter, the young hurlers in the Cardinals bullpen are the other main reason why the team is still in contention for a playoff spot.  Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Edward Mujica and more recently Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have been amazing to watch this summer.  Since he is pitching like a young man, we might as well add the veteran lefty, Randy Choate, into this group.   Most of them are rookies, but many have experienced postseason, either in St. Louis or in their minor league career.   The addition of John Axford gives a bit of insurance in case one of them struggles over the next few weeks.

Who is Not – St. Louis

Any starter not named Joe Kelly.  There is no way to sugar coat this, the rest of the rotation has been roughed up pretty badly.  Lance Lynn continues his curious second half meltdown, but Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller’s decline is more concerning.  With an off day coming up after this series, the addition of Michael Wacha into the rotation as well as a possible spot start from Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, we hope that both, if not all three, return to something more resembling their early season performance.

Yadier Molina is still among the leaders in batting average, but has been stone cold in September.  He has gone 3 for his last 18, all singles.  He has scored a run and driven in one.

Allen Craig is out with a foot injury, but was struggling at the time of his injury.

Carlos Beltran is 2-13 with a pair of singles and one RBI in the last week.

Matt Adams is 2-11 in September, but those two hits were historic, coming in the 14th and 16th inning of a thrilling extra inning win in Cincinnati.  With Allen Craig out with a foot injury, Adams playing time will increase.

Since these are the main run producers in the Cardinals batting order, it is no surprise that the team as a whole is struggling.

Kolten Wong has just one hit in 9 at bats in September, an infield single.  Wong has had a slow start to his major league career, but when he does get on base, he doesn’t stay on first for very long.

Jon Jay .063 / .111 / .063 so far this month with just one hit in 9 at-bats.  As a result, Shane Robinson is starting to play against left handed pitching in a platoon.   If Jay’s struggles continue, Robinson might start getting a few starts against righties as well.

Tony Cruz, Ryan Jackson, Adron Chambers. Brock Peterson and Rob Johnson are all 0 for September, in limited action.   Audry Perez was called up as additional catcher depth, but has yet to get into a game.

Key Injuries – Pittsburgh

Jason Grilli (rhp) has been out since late July with a strained forearm.  He has been activated after a short rehab assignment in the minor leagues, but is not expected to see much action right away. Mark Melancon will continue as the closer as Grilli works his way back into regular duty.

Wandy Rodriguez (lhp)  – has just started his minor league rehab and is expected to be back before the end of the regular season.

Starling Marte (of) is out with a hand injury.  He has still not started throwing or swinging the bat and it is unlikely that he will return during this series.

Michael McKenry (c) – out for the season recovering from knee surgery

James McDonald (rhp) is on the 60 day and has begun a rehab throwing program, but is not expected to return to the Pirates this year.

Jeff Karstens (rhp) and Phil Irwin (rhp) are out for the season.

Key Injuries – St. Louis

Allen Craig (1b) – Sprained foot.  Early medical reports are that Craig’s ankle is not broken, but rather a sprain of his foot. There is no time table on his return to the lineup.   While Craig has been struggling of late, his production with runners in scoring position is still outstanding.   Allen Craig currently has 97 RBIs.

Jake Westbrook (rhp) – lower back strain.  He has just been activated and is available for this series, but his role remains undefined.

John Gast (lhp) – season ending surgery to repair torn shoulder muscle.

Jaime Garcia (lhp) is out for the season with shoulder surgery.  He has recently started throwing.

Chris Carpenter (rhp) is out for the season with the season with nerve irritation to his pitching shoulder.  His rehab activities were shut down in July.

Jason Motte (rhp) is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Rafael Furcal (ss) is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Looking ahead

Of  the three teams competing for the NL Central title, the Cardinals have the easiest schedule on paper.  In addition to be heavily loaded with home games (15-7), they will face only one team with a winning record.   Their remaining schedule is

Sep 10-12 Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 13-15 Seattle (63-77)
Sep 16-19 At Colorado (66-75)
Sep 20-22 At Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 23-25 Washington (71-68)
Sep 27-29 Chicago (59-80)

The Cardinals also have two off days, September 9 and 26.

The Pirates remaining 20 games are a bit more evenly split between home and away.  They will also play 9 of those games against a team in a playoff race, Texas (3) and Cincinnati (6) as well as ending their season on the road.  Their remaining schedule is

Sep 9-11 at Texas (80-59)
Sep 12-15 Chicago (59-80)
Sep 16-17 San Diego (62-77)
Sep 20-22 Cincinnati (79-62)
Sep 23-25 at Chicago (59-80)
Sep 27-29 at Cincinnati (79-62)

The Pirates have just one off day, September 26.

For completeness, here is the Reds remaining schedule, which looks a lot like the Pirates.

Sep 6-8 Los Angeles (83-56)
Sep 9-11 Chicago (59-80)
Sep 13-15 At Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 16-18 At Houston (47-93)
Sep 20-22 At Pittsburgh (81-58)
Sep 23-25 New York Mets (63-75)
Sep 27-29 Pirates (81-58)

The Reds have three off days, September 12, 19 and 26.

Three games currently separate the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals.  In what has already been an exciting season for fans of all three teams, the best may be yet to come.

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2013 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

Good Luck, Memphis Redbirds


In just over an hour from now, the Memphis Redbirds will play the Oklahoma City Red Hawks in the final game of the regular season.  If Memphis wins, they will be the champions of the American North division of the Pacific Coast League.  They will play the very same Red Hawks in a best of five series, starting on Wednesday.

6_rockey_redbirdIt is a bit too early to put together a report card on this season, but with all that has happened to the Redbirds roster this season, it is amazing that they are in contention and have a chance to make the playoffs.  Sure, you can point at a weak division as all four team have records under .500.  That has a lot to do with the strength of the American South where all four teams will finish .500 or better.  For Memphis, it might mean more about the success of the St. Louis Cardinals and maybe some hidden talent down in Springfield.

When we first saw the open day roster for the Memphis Redbirds, we knew it was a strong one. Their early play proved that our optimism was well placed.   The rotation alone was eye-popping: Seth Maness, Michael Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and after an extended spring training, Carlos Martinez.  None of them are on the Memphis roster now.  Similar turmoil has happened in the bullpen as well.  Let’s take a look.

Starting Pitchers
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Seth Maness 2-2, 4.23 Boone Whiting 5-5, 4.09
John Gast 3-1, 1.16 Scott McGregor 6-10, 4.83
Michael Wacha 5-3, 2.65 Richard Castillo  1-2, 1.93
Tyler Lyons 7-2, 3.32 Eric Fornataro  1-4, 6.61
Nick Additon 9-7, 4.10 No fifth starter

That’s right. Four of the five starters are now in St. Louis, or hiding out in Springfield so that they can be quickly recalled as soon as their season ends. Nick Additon has had a very good year, but is now on the disabled list and unavailable.  The current Memphis Redbirds starting rotation consists of three pitchers who started the season in AA, a reliever that has been struggling with injuries, and an open spot that will be some combination of a bullpen game started by Nick Greenwood or Keith Butler.

Bullpen
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Victor Marte 2-3, 4.94 Keith Butler 3-2, 3.62
Eric Fornataro 1-4, 6.61 open roster spot
Michael Blazek 1-2, 2.77 Kevin Thomas 0-1. 10.80
Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63 Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63
Barret Browning 1-2, 4.58 Lee Stoppleman 1-0, 0.00
Maikel Cleto 2-3, 6.92 Jose Almarante 0-0, 0.00
Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06 Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06
Sam Freeman 7-2, 2.97 Deryk Hooker 0-0, 5.68

It is important to remember that the bullpen also included the final days of both Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski in the Cardinals organization. Of the two, Rzepczynski turned it around and was pitching effectively up to the time when he was traded. But Victor Marte totally lost whatever mojo he had and is now on the disabled list.  The continuing saga of Maikel Cleto finally came to an end, but not before the middle part of the schedule was blown apart.

Because Memphis had been playing with such a short roster, Kevin Thomas and Deryk Hooker were sent up to bolster the bullpen.  When it became apparent that Springfield would not win the second half of their division, two more arms were sent: Lee Stoppleman and Jose Almarante.  Both of these relievers have been impressive, but both started the season in A ball.

Barret Browning and Eduardo Sanchez are both gone, Sanchez being recently removed from the Cubs 40 man roster.  Eric Fornataro has been plagued by injuries and was recently inserted into the rotation because there were no other options.

There is no other way to describe 2013 than to say it was a tumultuous season for the bullpen.

The position players were not impacted quite as badly, but the two best players are no longer available – Kolten Wong is on the active roster in St. Louis and Oscar Taveras had a season ending injury.

Position Players
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI
Kolten Wong .303, 10 HR, 45 RBI Ryan Jackson .278, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI
JR Towles .237, 5 HR, 14 RBI Travis Tartamella .246, 3 HR, 18 RBI
Rob Johnson .236, 7 HR, 32 RBI Audry Perez .207, 0 HR, 7 RBI
Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI
Justin Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI Justian Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI
Adron Chambers .252, 8 HR, 43 RBI James Ramsey .000
Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI
Oscar Taveras .306, 5 HR, 32 RBI Mike O’Neill .296, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Chris Swauger .212, 2 HR, 12 RBI

The infield has stayed largely in tact, with Vance Albitz starting the year in Memphis and Ryan Jackson in St. Louis.  Brock Peterson spent a few days in St. Louis, as did Jermaine Curtis.  The big loss came in mid August when Kolten Wong was called up to St. Louis.

The outfield has had a nearly complete makeover as Tommy Pham took over center field when Oscar Taveras was initially injured.   The biggest blows to the Memphis offense happened when both Pham and Taveras had season ending surgeries.  Mike O’Neill was called up from Springfield and has played very well.  James Ramsey was a late minute addition to the roster when Adron Chambers got his annual September call up.  Adding to the outfield woes was a long disabled list stay by Justin Christian.

It is easy to forget that Memphis was running away with the American North early in the season, on the strength of that starting rotation.   John Gast did not allow an earned run in the first month of the season and both Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons were keeping pace.  The addition of Carlos Martinez made it almost unfair to the opposing teams.  By the end of May, all four of these plus Michael Wacha were in St. Louis.  That’s also when the bullpen drama began.   The result was a long and often frustrating season and a sub .500 record heading into the final game.  All of that can be forgotten with a win and another divisional title in the history of the Cardinals AAA Affiliate.

Don’t look too closely at the final record, regardless of how this season ends.   When your AA team can keep pace with most other organization’s AAA squads, you have a very deep and impressive farm system.  We have seen that play out this year in Memphis, and it is been fun to watch.   I am not ready for that to come to an end, so I really would like to see Memphis win today and give the Red Hawks a tough time in the first round of the playoffs.

Posted in 2012 Season | Leave a comment

Closing the Book on the John Axford Trade


It is really too early to do that, but at least we know the name of the “Player to be Named Later.”  It is Michael Blazek.  To some, that might seem too high a price to pay for a guy on the same career trajectory as Fernando Salas.  I disagree.

blazek

In a discussion with members of the United Cardinal Bloggers earlier this year, Cards General Manager, John Mozeliak, talked about how he had gotten some advice from former GM, Bing Devine.  One of Devine’s rules was that you had to trade away good talent to receive good talent.  More than the A-ha! of a lopsided trade, Devine wanted to ensure that he would be able to trade with that team or GM again in the future, should the need arise.  That included within the league or later, in the division.   Of course, one of his biggest trades would turn out to be one of those gotcha deals, but Ernie Broglio’s struggles were not thought to be due to a career ending injury at that time.

There is no question that the Cardinals gave the Brewers some seriously good talent in Michael Blazek.  It has been fun watching him make the transition between starter that had hit a ceiling to reliever that broke through that, leaving us all to wonder what his new ceiling might be.   There is also no question that we will miss seeing Blazek throw that high heat late in games, but for the baseball fan this is like breeding dogs – you just can’t keep all of the puppies.

Assuming that there are no catastrophic injuries, and making a couple of guesses about what the Cardinals will do over the winter, next year’s pitching squad looks something like this.

Starters: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly

Starter candidates: Tyler Lyons, Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Seth Maness, Jaime Garcia

Starters not brought back: Jake Westbrook

Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Jason Motte, John Axford

Bullpen candidates: Sam Freeman, Keith Butler

Relievers not brought back: Fernando Salas, Victor Marte, Jorge Rondon, Edward Mujica

Where does Michael Blazek fit into that list ?  He doesn’t.    Before you put Michael Blazek ahead of Keith Butler on the depth chart, take another look.   Both pitchers will be 25 years old next year.   Blazek was drafted out of high school and progressed methodically through the farm system.  Butler was drafted two years later and shot up through the farm system, jumping low A to high A in 2011.

Blazek was a starter that made a transition to the bullpen after hitting a ceiling in AA. He moved to the bullpen in 2012 and restarted his development with a good season.  His breakthrough came in 2013.  By comparison, Butler has had success at each level where he has pitched.  He has always pitched in the late innings, collecting 62 saves over his five professional season.  The only time he has had an ERA over 3 was this season in Memphis, as he bounced between there, Springfield and St. Louis.  The only reason that he began the 2013 season in Springfield is that Memphis was already full and had a closer (Marte).   In 13 appearances with Springfield, he collected 7 saves with an ERA of 0.66.

As impressive as Blazek as been, he would be 17th or so on the pitching depth list with only 12 spots available, and that’s if they don’t resign Edward Mujica.

But that’s not the only consideration here.  There is some fine young pitching talent that will soon be pushing their way onto this list, not to start the 2014 season, but perhaps not long after.

Lee Stoppleman – currently in Memphis, promoted to help Memphis get into the playoffs and carry them as far as he can.  Stoppleman is another impressive left hander.  He is tall like Kevin Siegrist, but is more of a slinger.  As a result he doesn’t have as much velocity, but is deceptive in his delivery which makes it seem as if he is throwing harder than he is.  Stoppleman has a good assortment of breaking pitches and can throw them all for strikes.  He was drafted in 2012 and has already earned a win in AAA – yeah, he’s been pretty impressive.

Deryk Hooker is another Michael Blazek type project.   He was also a starter that hit his ceiling at AA.  He moved to the bullpen this year and turned in numbers that are quite close to Blazek’s first year as a reliever.  He doesn’t throw as hard as Blazek, but has a similar arsenal of pitches.

Eric Fornataro would have been the first pitcher expected to be called up in 2013, if he didn’t make the club out of spring training.  He almost did the year before.  Fornataro is another Mitchell Boggs type, even with the exaggerated closed stance in the set position.  He was the setup man for Keith Butler in Springfield’s Texas League Championship team, but injuries and control problems have made 2013 something of a lost season – again like Mitchell Boggs.   Fornataro would be behind Blazek in the depth chart, but a return to 2011 form would change all that rather quickly.

Seth Blair is one of the two great enigmas in the Cardinals farm system – the other being Tyrell Jenkins.  Blair has an explosive fastball, and when he is on, can be overpowering.  But he has been very inconsistent and tends to have some big blow up innings.   Injuries have played a big part in this, but his arm is just too good to pass up.  I would not be surprised if he became the 2014 starter turned reliever project for Bryan Eversgerd next year in Memphis, and we see him turn into a top tier talent.

Jose Almarante is a hard throwing right hander that has sort of come out of nowhere this year.   That’s not entirely true, but his early professional career did not suggest anything like what we have seen recently.  Almarante was one of those called up to AA when the Cardinals started stealing pitchers from Memphis.  Unlike some of the others who struggled, Almarante turned in a career year, earning a ride to Memphis to finish the 2013 season.   He is one to keep an eye on next year or the year after.   Almarante will be 25 next year.

Tyrell Jenkins – the other enigma.  Injuries have slowed the development of this exciting right hander, but the depth of the Cardinals pitching has allowed the team to go slowly with him.  Their patience may pay off big time if he can ever stay healthy.   Before an injury cut short his 2013 season, he was lighting it up in the Midwest League.  Electric arm does not do Jenkins justice in the few times I have seen him pitch.

Jordan Swagerty – perhaps the best of the young pitchers is someone that we’ve sort of forgotten about as he lost a year with Tommy John surgery in 2012.  Swagerty was on a fast path when the injury hit, and is expected to return to that next year.

A bit farther out are Danny Miranda and Zach Russell.  Both of them have made the jump to AA and pitched well in their short time there.   Boone Whiting is also an intriguing young right handed starter that could make the move to the big league bullpen next year,  as Seth Maness did in in 2013.

There are two important things to remember when thinking about pitchers in the minor leagues

1. There ain’t no such thing as a can’t miss pitching prospect

2. There is no such thing as too much pitching

Even when you take those two pieces of wisdom into consideration, the Cardinals have more pitching than available places to put them, and more on the way.   When evaluating the Michael Blazek for John Axford deal over the coming months, perhaps years, make sure and do in the context of all this talent.  There is little question that Michael Blazek has impressive talent and all of the tools to have a long and successful major league career.   The question is where does he fit within the abundance of pitching talent in St. Louis and is that more valuable than adding some veteran insurance to a bullpen that has been spectacular at times, but also quite vulnerable.   Before playing the Luke Gregerson “one that got away” card, remember that the Cardinals have won one World Series Championships, made two more post-season trips and perhaps one more this year since that deal.

Posted in 2013 Season | 7 Comments

July 16, 1967 – Trading the Player to be Named Later


Just before the post-season eligibility deadline expires, the Cardinals acquired right hander John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers.  In return, the Brewers will receive a player to be named later.

Initial Reaction

The initial reaction to this deal should be largely positive.  Axford is something of a veteran, although he remains arbitration eligible through the 2016 season.  A quick glance at his 2012 and 2013 numbers could send you running for shelter, but a closer look tells a much different, ok – slightly different story.   No, it is not perfect, but there is a silver lining to be found.

Year W L ERA</th SV K/9 WHIP HR/9
2011 2 2 1.95 46 10.5 1.140 0.5
2012 5 8 4.67 35 12.1 1.442 1.3
2013 6 7 4.45 0 8.9 1.555 1.6

OK, clearly Axford is not the pitcher today that he was in 2011. If he were, he would still be pitching in Milwaukee, signed to a long contract and the Brewers would not be bringing up the rear of the NL Central.  Oddly, these numbers remind me of another pitcher ….

Year W L ERA SV K/9 WHIP HR/9
2011 5 6 2.28 24 9.0 0.947 0.8
2012 1 4 4.30 0 9.2 1.415 0.8
2013 0 2 4.91 0 7.0 1.318 1.2

Those are the numbers for Fernando Salas.

axfordGetting back to Axford, there is no way to sugar coat the performance.  Where he was very effective in 2011, batters are just getting more hits off him today, and that can be alarming.  Not only that, they are hitting more home runs (which says they are hitting him harder, more alarm bells).  But, there are two things that should make you step back and relax, if just a teeny bit.  His strikeout rate is still good (roughly 1 per inning) and he has only given up 4 home runs in the last three months – one of those was in Colorado and two were in Cincinnati.   Four more were hit in his first three outings.  That leaves two unaccounted for, and I can live with that.

That does not hide an atrocious hit rate, but that can be mitigated a bit by how Mike Matheny chooses to use Axford.  Bringing Axford in to start an inning instead of in the middle of a jam may be the difference between a good and bad outing.

On the balance, I think this is a very shrewd acquisition.  It bolsters the back of the bullpen so the Cardinals don’t have to rely on Michael Blazek or Keith Butler.  It also adds some cheap insurance in the event that Edward Mujica’s back is more serious than has been reported – yeah, like that’s never happened before with the Cardinals.  In the end, this deal may be judged by the Player to be Named Later, and that’s what we are here to talk about today.

Could John Axford be the Player to be Named Later in his own trade ?  It has happened before.

Tragedy and the Emergency Trade

This particular story starts the day before, in what can only be described as one of the worst days in Cardinals history.

Things were beginning to look up for the ’67 Redbirds as newcomers Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris were having a huge impact.  Cepeda was like a double shot of espresso, giving the team an energy that we hadn’t seen in a long time.  Maris was the perfect complement, adding a cool professionalism and dedication to basic baseball fundamentals (catch, throw, move runners up, run smartly).   The team had even overcome some early season adversity when Ray Washburn missed a month after taking a line drive off his pitching hand.  There was even talk of the National League Pennant returning to St. Louis.

All that changed when Roberto Clemente hit a line drive off Bob Gibson’s leg, breaking it just above the ankle.  With Gibson out for at least two months, the Cardinals had to shuffle their pitching staff, and quickly.

The only minor league option at the time was Jim Cosman.  Cosman had already been used when Washburn hit the disabled list.  He was fantastic in his first outing, but had control issues in his subsequent appearances.  It was not just the walks, Cosman was hitting opposing batters.  Not a good thing to do when you threw in the mid to upper 90s.  Cosman was not an option this time.

Cardinals manager, Red Schoendienst,  and general manager,  Stan Musial, had four days to figure this out before Gibson’s spot in the rotation were up again.  While it was never a consideration to replace Gibson with another elite starter, even replacement level pitchers were unavailable.   Fortunately, the Cardinals quickly found a solution for the rotation in Nelson Briles, but that opened a hole in the bullpen.  Replacement level relievers were much easier to come by, as Stan would soon find out.

Jack Lamabe to the Rescue

Jack LamabeOn July 16, the Mets were coming into town for a three game series.  They were already 17 1/2 game out of first place, so they became the perfect trade partner for the Cardinals.  A youth movement was  already underway with young pitchers such as Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, so the Mets were willing to part with one of their veteran right handers, Jack Lamabe.  I’ve already written about Lamabe’s incredible 1967 finish, and you can read that here.   The more interesting part of the story is what happened as a result of this trade.

With Don Cardwell coming off the disabled list, it gave the Mets some time to reshuffle their pitching staff as well.   Danny Frisella would eventually replace Lamabe in the bullpen, and that’s where things get interesting.

For their troubles, the Mets initially received Jim Cosman, but only as a summer rental to fill a spot in their AAA bullpen.   It gave the Mets sufficient time to evaluate Cosman, and the Cardinals hoped a change of scenery would do for Cosman what it did for Dick Hughes a year earlier.   In 11 appearances with the Jacksonville Suns, including 6 starts, Cosman posted a 2-2 record with a 3.40 ERA.   Not bad, but not what either team had hoped for.

Meanwhile, Lamabe was being everything the Cardinals had hoped for, and more.  His August performance was one of the greatest for a reliever in Cardinals history and it took Orlando Cepeda turning in a Hall of Fame performance that month to top him for National League Player of the Month honors.  Lamabe came in second in voting.

When the dust finally settled on the 1967 season, the Cardinals had another championship trophy for the display case, thanks in big part to Jack Lamabe, but they still had to settle up on the July trade.  And here is where things get really strange.

And to be Named Later

Apparently, Lamabe was one of the players on the “To be Named Later” list.   That’s right, the Mets offered up Lamabe for, well, Lamabe.    The Mets had already returned Jim Cosman, who would make one last attempt with the Cardinals in spring of 1968.   That left Lamabe and one other pitcher.  The decision was now in the hands of the Cardinals.

Al JacksonImpressed by what they had seen in Lamabe, the Cardinals sent another fan favorite back to New York, Al Jackson.   Finally playing for a good team, Jackson had shown what he was capable of, and had a most impressive season with the Cardinals.  That they were willing to give Jackson back to the Mets told you a lot about what they thought of Lamabe and what role he might play in the upcoming season.

Ironically, that would not play out as the Cardinals had hoped.  After a rough spring, Lamabe did not make the Cardinals roster at the start of the season.  He would make one start for Tulsa while the Cardinals found him a new home, a complete game shutout.   Shortly after that impressive outing, he would be traded to the Cubs, where he would finish his major league career.

Could That Happen Again ?

Probably not, but it is possible.  In the Jack Lamabe era of baseball, general managers were more gentlemen than the competitors they are today.  They would routinely trade players within the league, and once divisional play was introduced in 1969, within the division.   While it would drive CBA attorneys crazy today, they would also loan players to other teams, most often in the minor leagues.  That was what ultimately led to Jack Lamabe being one of the players to be named later in his own trade.

No, that is unlikely to happen in the game today.  But consider that Axford is still a relatively young pitcher that still has a lively arm.  He is still under team control through the end of the 2016 season.   The Brewers 2013 season has been over since mid-May and they have been looking ahead to 2014 for some time now.   If there was ever a time where we would see something as crazy as the Lamabe for Lamabe trade, this could be it.

We will know more following the season.  If nothing else, it has given us a chance to look back into Cardinals history for another of those magical moments.   Strange, but magical to be sure.

Posted in 2013 Season, General History | Leave a comment

Poll: What Should the Cardinals do about a Shortstop ?


Thanks to all that voted in the last poll.   The most popular choice for center field in 2014 was Oscar Taveras with Tommy Pham coming in a pretty distant second place.  Since the poll was opened, Pham has had season ending surgery to his shoulder and hopes to be ready next spring.

Now lets turn our attention to the position of shortstop with a pair of questions.   What should the Cardinals do for the remainder of the season and then looking ahead to next year.  With the trade deadline now behind us, and rosters expanding in a few days, it is less likely the Cardinals make a deal, but not impossible.

What should the Cardinals do for the remaining 30 games in the regular season and as far as they go into the post-season ?

Same question, but looking ahead to the 2014 season.  A few more options become available, one of them oddly intriguing.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing your opinions.

Posted in 2013 Season | Leave a comment

The Over-running Rule


Just when I think there is nothing left to blog about, something happens in a baseball game that requires a bit more explanation than the 140 character limit on Twitter allows.   Such was the case early in the Cardinals – Reds contest on August 27, 2013.   Fortunately, this play did not factor in to the final score, so we can break it apart without any additional bias that comes with some game determining controversies (i.e. the Atlanta/St. Louis Infield Fly Rule)

Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds leads off the game with what first appeared to be a routine infield single, but it turned into anything but when he took a causal stroll back to the base.  The Cardinals tagged Choo on the way back to the base which led to a short umpires meeting.  Choo was called safe which led to some confusion on the field, among fans and even in the broadcast booth.  Let’s take a look at the exact wording of the rule that governs this situation.  It is 7.08.

MLB Rule 7.08 - A runner is out when

(c) He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. 
    EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after 
    overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns
    immediately to the base

Although we are taught since the time we hit the first ball off a tee to turn to the right and into foul territory after running past first base, there is no such requirement to do so.  We are taught that practice to avoid any possible misinterpretation of our intent once passing the base, but the rules allow the runner to return to the base in fair territory, they just have to do so “immediately”.

To understand what is meant by “immediately”, we  need to look a bit farther down Rule 7.08.

7.08(j) He fails to return at once to first base after overrunning
        or oversliding that base. If he attempts to run to second
        he is out when tagged. If, after overrunning or oversliding
        first base he starts toward the dugout, or toward his 
        position, and fails to return to first base at once, he 
        is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged;

This is where “immediately” is defined and it is pretty clear.    If you are still unsure, read the rule guidance comment.

Let’s apply this test to the Choo play and see what happens.

If he attempts to run to second he is out when tagged.

Choo did not start running towards second base, so the first part of this rule does not apply.  Let’s continue.

If, after overrunning or oversliding first base he starts toward
the dugout, or toward his position, and fails to return to first
base at once, he is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged

We saw this in a game earlier in Los Angeles.  Although that play was at third base and covered by a different rule, the intent is the same.  In this case, the runner believes he is out and heads back to the dugout or to his defensive position.  By rule, the player is voluntarily abandoning his base and can then be tagged out on appeal.   Neither of those happened in the Choo play.

Fans can object to the slow pace in which Choo returned to first base all they want, and it was most unusual, but he did not cause a delay of game, abandon his base or make any obvious attempt to advance to the next base.   The umpires should be given credit for a swift conference where the crew chief got consensus about Choo’s “intent” and ruled properly – Choo was safe.

Lost in all of this confusion was the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasting team trying to explain this unusal play to the the listening audience.   Dan McLaughin did a good job by actually reading  the governing rule instead of relying on what he believed the rule said.  I give Dan a lot of credit for doing that while not losing the context of the game being playing out in front of him.  I also appreciate the way in which he did it, almost asking listeners to check out the rules for themselves and learn a bit more about this game that we all love.

At the same time, I have to apologize to Al Hrabosky for “yelling” at him on Twitter.   At times, we do need to step back and realize that these broadcasters are professionals and most of us are just fans with a computer.   It is easy to pick apart some mistake without appreciating all that they do in preparation and delivery of a broadcast.  We may not like their approach, and Al’s curmudgeon routine drives me crazy, but we should respect that they are professionals and treat them with some degree of respect.

Posted in 2013 Season | Leave a comment

Initial Inductees into the Cardinals Hall of Fame


The July project for the writers of the United Cardinal Bloggers is to pick the first five inductees into the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame.   Well, not really, but if we were asked, these would be our top five nominees.

Curt Flood (1958 – 1969)

FloodWhether or not he was the greatest center fielder of his era, or even in Cardinals history, can certainly be debated.   What cannot are his seven consecutive Gold Gloves, three All Star Game invitations, a career .293 batting average with the Cardinals (1,853 hits) and a being a key member of two World Series Championship teams and one NL Pennant winner.

What may have been forgotten over the years was that Flood was the first player acquired in what would soon become the core of a perennial championship team.  Soon to follow would be Bill White and Julian Javier, adding to a particularly rich pool of draftees – Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Ray Washburn, Mike Shannon and Dal Maxvill.

Like many young players of the era, Flood struggled under manager Solly Hemus.  When Johnny Keane (one of my next inductees) took over, a more confident Flood emerged and became one of the best players, hitting for average and playing stellar defense.

Another piece that is frequently lost in the Flood vs Edmonds vs McGee debate is that Flood frequently hit behind Lou Brock, patiently taking pitch after pitch while Brock threatened to steal a base.  Flood often took a pair of strikes before being able to swing his bat.  Even then, he hit over .300 for most of his Cardinals career, and was in race for the NL batting title through all of 1967.

That Curt Flood is not already in the Hall of Fame is great travesty that I hope some future Veterans Committee takes care of.  His motives for challenging the Reserve Clause were not charitable, but it still took a lot of courage to do what Flood did, and it cost him the remainder of his career in doing so.  Every player playing the game today owes Curt Flood a bit of thanks for huge salaries they receive.

George Kissell – (1940-2008)

KissellThe phrase “Play like a Cardinal” has special meaning to the fans of this great franchise.  It’s chief architect was a man that never made it to the Major Leagues, but spent seven decades coaching and teaching players, managers and future Hall of Famers.  Whitey Herzog once said of Kissell, “(he) is the only man that could talk for 15 minutes about a ground ball.”

Kissell started his minor league career as an infielder in 1940.  After a short career, and break for military service, he would return as a player manager.    One of those teams, the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals went 106-47.  One of his players from that season was a 19 year old Earl Weaver, who would go on to a Hall of Fame Career with the Orioles.  Other managers he would influence include Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst, Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson – quite an impressive list.

Three words describe George Kissell: The Cardinals Way.  For seven decades of dedication, teaching, coaching, hitting ground balls, helping players learn the fundamentals of good baseball, George Kissell should be one of the initial inductees into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

Johnny Keane (1938-1964)

Johnny-Keane-239x300Many fans will know the name Johnny Keane as the manager of the World Series Champions from 1964.  While he was the skipper of the big league club for only 3 1/2 years, his contributions go far beyond that, and rival those of George Kissell.

Keane was signed out of high school in 1938 and played shortstop for 15 years in the Cardinals minor league system.  An injury resulting from being hit in the head by a pitch cut short a promising career, but it opened the door to a better and much longer one.  Keane took over as a player-manager of the Albany Travelers in 1938, until the end of his playing days in 1941.  He returned to manage the Houston Buffaloes in 1946, taking over the helm of the AAA team in Rochester three years later.   Keane would earn a 1288-1203 record (.517) over 23 years as a manager, winning more than 90 games three different seasons.

Keane would take over as a coach under Solly Hemus in 1959, working with young players such as Bob Gibson and Curt Flood.  He would take over as manager midway during the 1961 season.  The Cardinals never posted a losing record with Keane at the helm, and a large part of that was how he handled Curt Flood and Bob Gibson.

My favorite Keane story took place on June 5, 1962.  The Cincinnati Reds had a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning as young left hander, Ray Sadecki took over.  To say that it was a bad outing would be an understatement.  Sadecki would start the inning by giving up a home run to the Reds pitcher, Bob Purkey.   A single and two errors by Sadecki would plate another run.  His day would end when Frank Robinson followed that with a long three run home run.  What had started out as a winnable 4-1 deficit quickly turned into a 9-1 blowout.  Keane’s frustration would be compounded when the Cardinals scored three runs the following inning off Purkey.  Ironically, the Cardinals would eventually tie the game, and win it in the bottom of the 11th, on a walk off home run by Stan Musial.

Keane would give Sadecki a tongue lashing to go with a $250 fine – a large sum for 1962.  The next day, Sadecki did not report to the clubhouse and he eventually demanded a trade.  Sadecki would soon find himself in the minor leagues and got things turned around, returning the big club in 1963.     Both would cool off eventually, but there was a tension between them that would last until Keane’s departure following the 1964 season.

Keane’s time with the Cardinals would come to an abrupt end following the 1964 World Series in an unbelievable power play between the former General Manager, Bing Devine and Branch Rickey.  Devine would be fired in August, just as the Cardinals were starting to make their historic run to the NL Pennant.  Rickey’s next move was to replace Keane following the end of the season with former Giants manager, Leo Durocher.   That move backfired when Keane signed a deal to manage the Yankees, scaring off Durocher.  That left the Cardinals without a manager and a huge public relations nightmare.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for Keane in New York.  Keane would not even finish out his second season with Pinstripes.

While he might not have had the seven decades of influences of George Kissell, Keane’s impact on Bob Gibson, Curt Flood and even the turmoil with Ray Sadecki brought a winning tradition back to St. Louis.  One that carried on with his successor, Red Schoendienst.

Mike Shannon (1962 – present)

Mike Shannon (1965), being all serious

Mike Shannon (1965), being all serious

The “Moon Man” has become something of a treasure for Cardinals fans.  Younger fans may not appreciate how good of a player Shannon was, but a comparison to what they are seeing today with Matt Carpenter would be very close.   Shannon was big player for his era and what he lacked in gracefulness, he more than made up for in determination.   He would not be known so much as an outfielder or third baseman – Mike Shannon was just a ballplayer.  A darn good ballplayer.

As the Cardinals retooled for their now historic Pennant run in 1964, the final piece to the puzzle was the promotion of Mike Shannon to stop the revolving door of players in right field.  From July 9, when he took over as the every day right fielder, to the end of the regular season, Shannon hit .264 with 9 home runs and 43 RBIs.   He also provided some much needed protection in the order for Dick Grote and Tim McCarver, giving the Cardinals some much needed punch at the bottom half.

He would go on to be a very solid and dependable .260 hitter that you could count on to hit 12 home runs and drive in 60 or more runs.   His versatility as an athlete helped the Cardinals win their second championship of the decade when he moved from right field to third base to make room for Roger Maris.

Shannon and the Cardinals were dealt a severe blow in 1970 when a kidney disease abruptly ended his playing career.  Two years later, Shannon would be back, but this time in the broadcast booth.  As with his playing career, what he lacked in gracefulness was more than made up with sheer determination.  For three decades, he would broadcast games with Jack Buck, getting better with each passing year.  He is still a joy to hear calling Cardinals games today, especially during rain delays when there is no action on the field to disturb whatever story he is trying to tell.

buck-shannon

Thanks for five decades of being a Cardinal.

Willie McGee (1982-1990, 1996-1999)

mcgeeWillie McGee may go down in history as the player that seemed to be least impressed by his greatness.  The expression on his face as he stuck out on a fastball over his head was just about the same as he went from home plate to third base in the blink of an eye, or when making an eye-popping catch in the outfield.  The caption on his placque should just read, “Aw sheeeeez”.

Fortunately, most Cardinals fans are old enough to have seen McGee play, even if it was at the end of his career.  If you aren’t, all you need to know is that he was missing piece to Whitey Herzog’s Championship team in 1982.   McGee was only supposed to spend a few days with the big club while David Green was on the disabled list.  McGee would make such an impact that it would be Green that would spend the rest of his career as a backup outfielder while McGee went on to win 3 Gold Gloves and an NL MVP award.

Over his 18 year career, McGee collected 2,254 hits (94 triples) and stole 352 bases.  He also had a lifetime batting average of .295.  While this might not qualify him for a place in Cooperstown, he certainly deserves a spot in the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame.

These are my five selections.  Unfortunately, it did not leave enough room for Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, John Tudor, Tim McCarver, Bing Devine or point out the fact that Ken Boyer is still not in the actual Hall of Fame.  Maybe next year.

If you would like to find out who the other United Cardinal Bloggers chose on their ballots, send your browsers off in this direction. If you would like to discuss any of my selections, or share some of your own ideas, please feel free to leave a comment or two.

Posted in General History, Unforgotten Cardinals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Poll: What to do about Center Field in 2014 ?


An interesting Twitter chat has spawned something of a good hypothetical question that lends itself quite nicely to a poll.  Since we haven’t done one of these in a while, let’s give it a go.

Assuming the Cardinals trade David Freese at the upcoming deadline, or more likely some time over the winter, what do they do about center field in 2014 ?  Before answering, some additional background might be needed to sway you one way or the other.

Without any other deals, the Cardinals every day lineup in a hypothetical batting order would look something like this.

Kolten Wong (l) – 2B

Matt Carpenter (l) – 3B

Matt Holliday (r) – LF

Allen Craig (r) – 1B

Oscar Taveras (l) – OF

Yadier Molina (r) – C

The subject of our poll (?) – OF

The subject of the next poll (?)  – SS

Feel free to flip Taveras and Holliday in the batting order.  I only put Holliday there to break up the three left handed hitters.  I think we will eventually see Taveras in that #3 spot before the season is over, but that is unimportant to our poll question.

Given that the top six hitters all have the potential of hitting .300 or better, and driving in runs in bunches, what should the Cardinals do about center field ?

Feel free to offer up other answers or explain your choice in the comments.  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with.

Posted in 2012 Season | Leave a comment